Russia Jails Rights Campaigner Orlov for 2-1/2 Years

MOSCOW — Veteran human rights activist Oleg Orlov was sentenced on Tuesday by a Moscow court to two and a half years in prison after he was found guilty of discrediting Russian’s armed forces in a trial that has been condemned by international observers as politically motivated. Orlov, 70, has served for more than two decades as one of the leaders of rights group Memorial. It won a share of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2022, a year after being banned and dissolved in Russia. Memorial said Orlov was handcuffed after the verdict, and the court ordered him to be taken immediately into custody. In his closing remarks to the trial on Monday, Orlov decried the “strangulation of freedom” in Russia, which he referred to as a “dystopia.” The case against him stemmed from an article he wrote in 2022 in which he said Russia under President Vladimir Putin had descended into fascism. He was initially fined $1,628 by a district court last year, but a retrial was ordered and prosecutors sought a jail sentence of two years and 11 months. The U.N. special rapporteur on human rights in Russia, Mariana Katzarova, called Orlov’s trial “an orchestrated attempt to silence the voices of human rights defenders in Russia.” Memorial, founded in 1989, has documented human rights abuses from the time of Soviet leader Josef Stalin to the present and defended freedom of speech, with a focus on identifying and honoring individual victims. …

US Army Using Own Funding to Pay for Training of Ukrainian Forces

The U.S. military has been forced to dip into its own funding to cover American training of Ukrainian forces, a strategy that could leave the Army short on finances in Europe as the Russian war on Ukraine enters its third year. VOA Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb has details. …

Greece Takes Helm in EU Naval Mission in Red Sea  

ATHENS, Greece — Greece on Monday formally agreed to participate in and lead a European Union maritime security operation in the Red Sea to protect commercial shipping from attacks by Houthi militants in Yemen. A security committee led by Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis ordered the participation of a Greek frigate in the Aspides operation — named for the Greek word for “shield” — that was launched last week. The mission will be run from a military base in Larissa, in central Greece, under the command of Greek navy Commodore Vasilios Griparis. Greece, a major commercial shipping power, has been directly affected by the Houthi attacks. The port of Piraeus, near Athens, reported a 12.7% drop in activity at its container terminal in January, on an annual basis. “We all understand that participation in this operation involves risks, significant risks,” Defense Minister Nikos Dendias said Monday while on a visit to the navy frigate Hydra at a naval base near Athens. The frigate departed on the mission late Monday.  “Greece, as a maritime power with a leading role in global shipping, attaches great importance to the need to safeguard the freedom of navigation, as well as the life of Greek seafarers,” Dendias said. Germany, Italy and France will also provide warships for the mission, joining the Hydra, while Italy will assume tactical command, according to Greek officials. German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius visited the German navy frigate Hessen that is taking part in Aspides, while on a trip to the Greek island of Crete last week. The vessel has since sailed southward to the Red Sea, German authorities said. Officials in Athens have described the Aspides mission as defensive, adding that Greece would not take part in U.S.-led attacks against Houthi military targets in Yemen. The Iranian-backed Houthis say their attacks on commercial ships with drones and missiles are a response to Israel’s offensive in Gaza against Hamas, which began in October. At a parliamentary committee hearing last week, Dendias said keeping the lines of maritime trade open was an “existential necessity for Greece.” “We do not take a position on the Houthi issue,” Dendias told lawmakers at the hearing. “But we do challenge the right of anyone to fire at our ships, at European ships, and at ships that sail the region and come to our ports.” …

Sweden Set to Join NATO After Hungary Finally Approves Bid

London — Sweden is set to officially join NATO after Hungary finally gave its approval Monday, the last member of the Western alliance to ratify the bid. Analysts say the addition of the Nordic nation to NATO as its 32nd member will bring significant military capabilities to the Western alliance. Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson said it was a “historic day” for his country. “Sweden is now leaving 200 years of neutrality and nonalignment behind us. It is a big step. We must take that seriously. But it is also a very natural step that we are taking,” Kristersson said at a news conference in Stockholm on Monday, following the Hungarian approval. “Membership of NATO means that we now join a large number of democracies that work together for peace and freedom. A new home where neighbors cooperate for safety and a group of countries that, in practice, we have belonged for a very long time,” he added. Hungary vote Hungarian lawmakers passed the vote with an overwhelming margin of 188 in favor of Sweden’s accession and only six against the motion. Earlier, Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban had urged MPs to approve the bid. “The Swedish-Hungarian military cooperation and Sweden’s accession to NATO will strengthen Hungary’s security,” Orban said ahead of the vote. Sweden’s submitted its application to join NATO along with Finland in May 2022, three months after Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Finland’s application was ratified relatively quickly, and it joined the alliance in April 2023. However, Sweden’s bid was held up by Turkey and Hungary. Ankara claimed that Sweden was harboring Kurdish groups, which it considers terrorists. Turkey eventually approved the NATO bid in January after Sweden introduced new anti-terror laws. Hungary’s objections to Sweden’s NATO accession were less clear. Orban had voiced anger over Sweden’s criticism of a perceived democratic backsliding in his country. A visit by Kristersson to Budapest last Friday – and the purchase by Hungary of four Swedish Gripen fighter jets – appear to have helped overcome the tensions. US ambassador The U.S. Ambassador to Hungary David Pressman, who has been critical of Budapest’s delaying the ratification, welcomed the vote. “Sweden’s accession to NATO will advance the security of the United States, the security of Hungary and the security of the alliance, and this has been a decision that has taken some time and we look forward to it,” Pressman told reporters outside … “Sweden Set to Join NATO After Hungary Finally Approves Bid”

Sweden to Join NATO After Hungary Finally Approves Bid 

Sweden is expected to officially join NATO in the coming days or weeks, after Hungary finally gave its approval Monday – the last member to do so. As Henry Ridgwell reports, analysts say Sweden brings important capabilities to the Western defense alliance. …

Ethiopia Arrests French Journalist

washington — A French journalist on assignment in Ethiopia is in custody after being arrested in the capital, Addis Ababa. Antoine Galindo, who works for the Paris-based media outlet Africa Intelligence, was arrested at a hotel while interviewing Bate Urgessa, a spokesperson for the opposition Oromo Liberation Front (OLF) party. Police also detained Bate, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists or CPJ. Police accused the reporter of “conspiracy to create chaos,” according to a statement by Galindo’s employer. He was detained Thursday and a court on Saturday ordered that the journalist be held until March 1. Africa Intelligence in a statement said that a lawyer for the publication attended the hearing Saturday. The publication added that it “condemns the unjustified arrest … and calls for [Galindo’s] immediate release.” Galindo heads the Eastern Africa and Horn section of Africa Intelligence. He traveled to Ethiopia on February 13 to cover the African Union summit and other local reporting assignments, according to his employer. The Ethiopian Embassy in Washington did not respond to VOA’s email requesting comment. International press freedom groups condemned the arrest and called for Ethiopian authorities to free Galindo. “The baseless and unjustified detention of Antoine Galindo for carrying out his legitimate journalistic duties is outrageous,” said CPJ’s Angela Quintal in a statement. Quintal, who heads CPJ’s Africa program, said that Ethiopia has a “dismal” press freedom record and is detaining at least eight other journalists. The Paris-based Reporters Without Borders or RSF said in a statement that Galindo’s arrest comes amid a difficult climate for media in Ethiopia. “The authorities are trying to control the narrative of recent social and political tensions, [and] there is growing hostility towards independent journalism that seeks to cover any national issues,” said Sadibou Marong, who is director of RSF’s sub-Saharan Africa bureau. “The authorities are also targeting foreign media and journalists. Antoine Galindo’s totally arbitrary detention is a terrible example,” Marong added. Human rights activists have criticized Ethiopia’s restrictions on media, including coverage of conflicts and security issues. Foreign journalists have been expelled from Ethiopia or denied accreditations to work in recent years. The last case of foreign journalists being detained was in 2011, when two journalists from Sweden were arrested. They were sentenced to 11 years in prison for helping and promoting a rebel group and entering the country illegally before being pardoned and released the following year, Reuters reported. Prime Minister … “Ethiopia Arrests French Journalist”

Thousands in Warsaw Mark Anniversary of Russian Invasion of Ukraine

More than 20,000 people gathered at a rally in Warsaw Saturday to mark the second anniversary of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Despite a difficult situation on the Polish-Ukrainian border, where Polish farmers, complaining about unfair competition, have almost completely blocked the export of some Ukrainian goods, Polish politicians reassured demonstrators that their support of Ukraine is unchanged. Lesia Bakalets has the story from Warsaw. Camera: Daniil Batushchak …

Donations as Patriotism: Ukrainians Support Army During Two Years of War

During two years of war, Ukrainians have supported their army financially. Despite the tough economic situation in the country, the level of donations remains high, and volunteers find new ways to raise funds. Lesia Bakalets has the story from Kyiv. Video: Evgenii Shynkar …

Belarus’ Lukashenko to Run for Seventh Presidential Term in 2025

Moscow — Belarus leader Alexander Lukashenko said he would run for president again in 2025, Belarusian state news agency BelTA reported Sunday. Lukashenko made his comments after voting in parliamentary and local council elections, denounced by the United States as a sham. The ex-Soviet state’s top election official dismissed the criticism and told Washington to look after its own affairs. BelTA said Lukashenko, who has been in power since 1994, told journalists: “Tell them (the exiled opposition) that I’ll run. No one, no responsible president would abandon his people who followed him into battle.” Lukashenko, 69, is one of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s closest allies and allowed the Kremlin to use his country’s territory to launch its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in 2022. “We’re still a year away from the presidential election. A lot of things can change,” he said in response to a follow-up question, BelTA reported. “Naturally, I and all of us, society, will react to the changes that will take place in our society and the situation in which we will approach the elections in a year’s time,” Lukashenko said. The U.S. State Department condemned what it called the “sham” elections in Belarus Sunday. “The elections were held in a climate of fear under which no electoral processes could be called democratic,” department spokesperson Matthew Miller said in a statement. The chairman of Belarus’ Central Election Commission, in comments quoted by BelTA, said it was not up to the United States to comment on the election. “We don’t denounce their elections. We make no statements, even if they had over   there a lot of questions for all to see, even in their last presidential election,” Igor Karpenko was quoted as saying. “They work according to the principle that we are bigger and can therefore tell everyone what to do. I think we can manage quite nicely conducting elections in our own country,” Karpenko said. Election commission officials said voter turnout stood at just below 73% by mid-evening. Lukashenko’s reelection to a sixth term in 2020 sparked unprecedented protests by opponents alleging mass vote-rigging. Putin offered support to Lukashenko and the demonstrations died out after mass roundups and detentions of protesters by police. Lukashenko told reporters the role of parliament would be bolstered in his country. “People are beginning to understand that in Belarus, for example, a president is not a tsar or a god. It is very … “Belarus’ Lukashenko to Run for Seventh Presidential Term in 2025”

Facing Chinese EV Rivals, Europe’s Automakers Squeeze Suppliers on Costs

London — Europe’s automakers and their already-stretched suppliers face a tough year as they race to cut costs for electric models to counter leaner Chinese rivals which are bringing cheaper vehicles to challenge them on their home turf. A big question is how much more Europe’s automakers can squeeze out of suppliers that have already started laying off workers, with many smaller companies hard hit by supply chain issues during the pandemic. The difference between Europe’s legacy automakers and more EV-focused Chinese manufacturers will be on stark display this week at the Geneva car show, which is returning after a four-year hiatus due to the pandemic. The only major companies holding media events are France’s Renault and China’s SAIC Motors and the BYD Company — two of several of the country’s automakers that have set their sights on Europe. Renault is launching its electric R5 and SAIC’s MG brand will unveil its M3 hybrid. Meanwhile, BYD’s Seal sedan is shortlisted for the Car of the Year award. If it wins, it would be the first Chinese model to get the prestigious award. “They really are like chalk and cheese,” Nick Parker, a partner and managing director at consulting firm AlixPartners, said of the legacy European automakers and their Chinese rivals. Unlike European automakers that are reliant on external suppliers with separate supply chains for fossil-fuel and electric, their Chinese rivals are highly vertically integrated, producing almost everything in-house and keeping costs down. That helps them undercut their European rivals. In Britain, BYD’s electric Dolphin hatchback starts at 25,490 pounds ($32,300), about 27% less than Volkswagen’s equivalent ID.3 model. Tesla works in the same way. Chasing those rivals means European automakers’ profit margins could be “heavily challenged” moving forward because there is only so much they can squeeze out of external suppliers, AlixPartners’ Parker said. The challenge has been made more difficult by a slower-than-expected shift to EVs, leaving legacy automakers stuck with their dual supply chains. Data this week showed EU fully-electric car sales in January fell 42.3% from December. Both Renault and Stellantis have stressed their EV cost-cutting efforts this month while Mercedes toned down expectations for EV demand and said it will update its traditional lineup well into the next decade. Stellantis CEO Carlos Tavares has gone further, telling suppliers that with 85% of EV costs related to purchased materials, they need to bear a proportionate burden in reducing … “Facing Chinese EV Rivals, Europe’s Automakers Squeeze Suppliers on Costs”

As Ukraine Awaits Weapons, It Places Hope on Peace Summits

The urgency of providing Ukraine with the weapons it needs to stop Russian military advances was again underscored Sunday both in Europe and the United States. At the same time, calls for stopping the human suffering and efforts to achieve a peaceful resolution to the conflict were also brought to the forefront. Veronica Balderas Iglesias reports. …

Corruption Scandals Cast Shadow Over Portugal’s Early General Election 

LISBON, Portugal — The official two-week campaign period before Portugal’s early general election began Sunday, with the country’s two moderate mainstream parties once again expected to collect the most votes but with the expected rise of a populist party potentially adding momentum to Europe’s drift to the right.  The center-left Socialist Party and center-right Social Democratic Party have alternated in power for decades. But they are unsure of how much support they might need from smaller rival parties for the parliamentary votes needed to form a government after the March 10 vote.  Corruption scandals have cast a shadow over the ballot. They have also fed public disenchantment with the country’s political class as Portugal prepares to celebrate 50 years of democracy, following the Carnation Revolution that toppled a rightist dictatorship on April 25, 1974.  The election is being held after a Socialist government collapsed last November following a corruption investigation. That case brought a police search of Prime Minister António Costa’s official residence and the arrest of his chief of staff. Costa hasn’t been accused of any crime.  Also in recent weeks, a Lisbon court decided that a former Socialist prime minister should stand trial for corruption. Prosecutors allege that José Sócrates, prime minister between 2005-2011, pocketed around 34 million euros ($36.7 million) during his time in power from graft, fraud and money laundering.  The Social Democratic Party has also been tainted by corruption allegations.  During the recent weeks of unofficial campaigning, a graft investigation in Portugal’s Madeira Islands triggered the resignation of two prominent Social Democrat officials.   The scandal erupted on the same day the Social Democratic Party unveiled an anti-corruption billboard in Lisbon that said, “It can’t go on like this.”  A housing crisis, persistent levels of low pay and unreliable public health services are other areas where the records of the two main parties are at issue.  Hot-button topics that have driven political debate and encouraged populist parties elsewhere in Europe, such as climate change, migration and religious differences, have largely been absent in Portugal’s campaign.  A five-year-old populist and nationalist party called Chega! (in English, Enough!) has made the fight against corruption one of its political banners. “Portugal needs cleaning out,” one of its billboards declares.  The party’s leader, 41-year-old lawyer André Ventura, has been riding in third place in opinion polls and could become a kingmaker if his political influence grows. His party got just … “Corruption Scandals Cast Shadow Over Portugal’s Early General Election “

Serbia Protests After Croatian Foreign Minister Calls Vucic ‘Russian Stooge’ 

BELGRADE, Serbia — Serbia on Sunday sent a protest note after Croatia’s foreign minister described Serbia’s populist President Aleksandar Vucic as a Russian “satellite” in the Balkans. It was the latest spat between the two neighbors that have been at odds for most of the time since the bloody breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s. Croatian Foreign Minister Gordan Grlic Radman told N1 television Saturday that Vucic must decide which side he is on, Russia or the European Union, “because it is impossible and uncomfortable sitting on two chairs at the same time.” “He shouldn’t have a big dilemma,” Grlic Radman said, adding that Vucic can remain Moscow’s ally but “malign” Russian influence that could undermine the stability of the Western Balkans will not be allowed. Vucic and other Serbian officials reacted with anger. “The Croatian minister not only brutally interferes in the internal affairs of Serbia, but as usual he lies and insults the Serbian people and threatens its citizens,” Vucic said on Instagram. “Grlic Radman is right about one thing, maybe I am someone’s satellite … but I have never been anyone’s servant, which cannot be said for Grlic Radman.” In its protest note, the Serbian Foreign Ministry said that it expects that in the future Croatian officials “will refrain from statements that represent interference in the internal affairs of Serbia and will lead a policy of reconciliation and good-neighborly relations between the two states.” Vucic’s government has maintained close ties with Moscow despite its aggression against Ukraine, and the Serbian autocratic leader has often boasted about his close personal relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin despite Serbia’s formal bid to join the European Union. Serbia has refused to join Western sanctions against Russia, a traditional Slavic ally, while allowing Moscow propaganda outlets such as RT and Sputnik to spread their narrative throughout the Balkans. EU officials have repeatedly said that Serbia must align its policies with the bloc if it really wants to join and warned of the increasing Russian influence in the war-torn region. Croatia, which is an EU and NATO member, and Serbia have been involved in a series of spats between their officials in recent years. The two countries have lately also been involved in a mini arms race that analysts believe could further escalate the tensions in the region. …

Belarusians Vote in Tightly Controlled Election; Opposition Calls for Boycott

TALLINN, Estonia — Polls opened Sunday in Belarus’ tightly controlled parliamentary and local elections that are set to cement the steely rule of the country’s authoritarian leader, despite calls for a boycott from the opposition, which dismissed the balloting as a “senseless farce.” President Alexander Lukashenko, who has ruled Belarus with an iron hand for nearly 30 years, accuses the West of trying to use the vote to undermine his government and “destabilize” the nation of 9.5 million people. Most candidates belong to the four officially registered parties: Belaya Rus, the Communist Party, the Liberal Democratic Party and the Party of Labor and Justice. Those parties all support Lukashenko’s policies. About a dozen other parties were denied registration last year. Belarusian opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya, who is in exile in neighboring Lithuania after challenging Lukashenko in the 2020 presidential election, urged voters to boycott the elections. “There are no people on the ballot who would offer real changes because the regime only has allowed puppets convenient for it to take part,” Tsikhanouskaya said in a video statement. “We are calling to boycott this senseless farce, to ignore this election without choice.” Sunday’s balloting is the first election in Belarus since the contentious 2020 vote that handed Lukashenko his sixth term in office and triggered an unprecedented wave of mass demonstrations. Protests swept the country for months, bringing hundreds of thousands into the streets. More than 35,000 people were arrested. Thousands were beaten in police custody, and hundreds of independent media outlets and nongovernmental organizations were shut down and outlawed. Lukashenko has relied on subsidies and political support from his main ally, Russia, to survive the protests. He allowed Moscow to use Belarusian territory to send troops into Ukraine in February 2022. The election takes place amid a relentless crackdown on dissent. Over 1,400 political prisoners remain behind bars, including leaders of opposition parties and renowned human rights advocate Ales Bialiatski, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2022. The opposition says the early balloting that began Tuesday offers fertile ground for the vote to be manipulated, with ballot boxes unprotected for five days. Election officials said Sunday that over 40% of the country’s voters cast ballots during the five days of early voting. Turnout stood at 43.64% by 9 a.m. on Sunday, an hour after polls formally opened, according to the Belarusian Central Election Commission. The Viasna Human Rights Center said … “Belarusians Vote in Tightly Controlled Election; Opposition Calls for Boycott”

Police Find 10th Body in Charred Spanish Apartment Block

VALENCIA, Spain — The death toll from a dramatic fire that left two residential buildings charred in the Spanish city of Valencia rose to 10 Saturday after authorities announced they had located the remains of what they believed was the last missing person. Forensic police found the 10th victim inside the scorched building, national government delegate in Valencia Pilar Bernabé told journalists. Police will proceed with DNA testing to confirm the identities of all the victims, she said. While there were no other missing persons reported, Bernabé stressed that police and firefighters would continue the “complex” work of combing through the building debris in search of any other possible victim. It was not immediately known how many people were in the two buildings when the fire broke out, but the complex had some 140 apartments. The blaze that appeared to begin in one home Thursday afternoon engulfed the rest of the 14-story apartment block in less than an hour, raising questions about whether construction materials used on the façade may have contributed to the fire spreading so furiously. Neighbors described seeing the rapid evolution of the flames, with residents stuck on balconies and children screaming. Those left homeless from the fire, including many Ukrainian refugees who lived in the large residential complex, were initially given refuge in city hotels but were expected to be moved to other accommodation over the weekend. Experts suggested that a type of cladding might have made the blaze spread faster. However, Valencia Mayor María José Catalá said the fire’s cause was still unknown and that it was too early to comment on whether some materials used in the construction of the modern complex might have worsened it. …

UK Lawmaker Suspended After Accusing London Mayor of Being Controlled by Islamists

london — The U.K.’s governing Conservative Party has suspended ties with one if its lawmakers after he accused London Mayor Sadiq Khan of being controlled by Islamists, as tensions over the Israel-Hamas war roil British politics.  The party said Saturday that Lee Anderson was suspended after he refused to apologize for remarks made about Khan in a television interview Friday. The action means that Anderson, a deputy chairman of the Conservatives until last month, will sit in Parliament as an independent.  Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and other senior Conservative leaders had come under increasing pressure to reject the comments, which the chairwoman of the opposition Labor Party called “unambiguously racist and Islamophobic.”  The controversy comes as the Israel-Hamas war fuels tensions in British society. Pro-Palestinian marches in London have regularly drawn hundreds of thousands of demonstrators calling for an immediate cease-fire, even as critics describe the events as “antisemitic hate marches.” Figures released over the last week show that both anti-Jewish and anti-Muslim incidents have risen sharply since Hamas’ attack on Israel on October 7.  That anger has spilled over into Parliament, where some lawmakers say they fear for their safety after receiving threats over their positions on the conflict in Gaza.  In his interview with GB News, Anderson criticized the police response to pro-Palestinian demonstrations in London, leveling the blame on Khan.  Anderson said he didn’t “actually believe that the Islamists have got control of our country, but what I do believe is they’ve got control of Khan and they’ve got control of London.”  Khan flatly rejected the allegations, telling the BBC that all forms of hatred need to be rejected, including antisemitism, Islamophobia and misogyny.  “My concern is there’ll be people across the country, people who are Muslim, or look like Muslims, who’ll be really concerned about entering into politics because they know if these are the sorts of comments that are said against me by a senior Conservative, what chance do they have?” he said.  …

Eiffel Tower Staff Strike Ends; Site to Reopen Sunday

PARIS — A strike by staff at the Eiffel Tower has ended, the company that runs one of the most visited tourist sites in the world said in a statement Saturday.  The tower will reopen Sunday, the Societe d’Exploitation de la Tour Eiffel, or SETE, which is owned by Paris City Hall, said.  Workers at the Eiffel Tower went on strike on Feb. 19 in protest over the way the Paris monument is managed.  It came as Paris prepares to host the 2024 Summer Olympics, which begin on July 26 and will feature metal from the tower in the winners’ medals.  SETE and trade unions “reached an end-of-strike agreement stipulating that the parties will regularly review the company’s business model, maintenance costs and sales through a body that will meet every six months,” the company said.  SETE said visitors who bought tickets between Feb. 19-24 will get refunds.  Unions claim Paris City Hall, which owns 99% of SETE, is underestimating the cost of the planned maintenance and repairs to the monument ahead of the Olympics.  …

WWII-Era Bomb Prompts One of Largest Peacetime Evacuations in UK History

LONDON — A World War II-era bomb whose discovery prompted one of the largest peacetime evacuations in British history has been detonated at sea, the Ministry of Defense said Saturday. The 500-kilogram (1,100-pound) explosive was discovered Tuesday in the backyard of a home in Plymouth, a port city on the southwestern coast of Britain. More than 10,000 residents were evacuated to ensure their safety as a military convoy transported the unexploded bomb through a densely populated residential area to a ferry slipway, from which it was taken out to sea. “I think it is fair to say that the last few days will go down in history for Plymouth,” said Tudor Evans, the leader of Plymouth City Council. Plymouth, home to major naval bases for centuries, was one of the most heavily bombed cities in Britain during World War II. Fifty-nine separate air raids killed 1,174 civilians, according to local officials. The raids destroyed almost 3,800 homes, and heavily damaged another 18,000. …

Pope Francis Cancels Meeting With Rome Deacons Due to Mild Flu

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis has canceled an audience scheduled for Saturday as a precaution after coming down with a mild case of the flu, the Vatican press office said in a short statement without adding further details. Francis was scheduled to meet with Rome deacons in the morning. Vatican spokesperson Matteo Bruni said later Saturday that the pope’s weekly Sunday Angelus address was still to be confirmed and that no further health updates were expected for the day. The 87-year-old pontiff has had several health problems in recent years. In late November, he was forced to cancel some of his activities and an international trip because of breathing problems. A scan at the time ruled out lung complications. Francis had a part of one lung removed when he was young and still living in his native Argentina. In April, the pope spent three days at Rome’s Gemelli hospital for what the Vatican said was bronchitis. He was discharged after receiving intravenous antibiotics. Francis also spent 10 days at the same hospital in July 2021 following intestinal surgery for narrowing of the bowel. He was readmitted in June 2023 for an operation to repair an abdominal hernia and remove scarring from previous surgeries. When asked about his health in a recent television interview, Francis quipped what has become his standard line: “Still alive, you know.” Over the past two years, Francis has indicated several times that he would be ready to step down, following the example of his predecessor, Benedict XVI, if his health deteriorates to the point that it becomes an impediment to him leading the Catholic Church. However, in a TV interview last month, he said he felt in good health and denied immediate plans to resign. Speculation about Francis’ health and the future of his pontificate has increased following Benedict’s death in late 2022. Benedict’s resignation in 2013 marked a turning point for the church, as he became the first pontiff in six centuries to step down. …